Life was hard, but at least I was too tired to notice, I wearily thought as I settled under my blanket. I had dubbed my makeshift bed the ‘midget futon’, and that is exactly what it was. Fifty dollars from a big box store and three years old, I barely fit on it at just over five feet tall. Purchasing a bed was the last thing on my mind. Within seconds of sinking my head into my pillow, I was asleep.
The sound of warfare and video games and the sour smell of beer wafted up to the apartment loft I occupied around 2pm, rousing me from my deep sleep. I willed my deadened limbs to move and crunched into an upright position, shaking my head and trying to gather my wits. Today was an important day, I foggily recalled. Straining to remember what I was supposed to do, who I was supposed to call or whatever else it could be, the thought didn’t come to me.
“Turn that down! Asshole!” I hollered from the loft to my room mate Ben. Ben was a complete jerk, drinking around the clock, playing with his various handguns and usually making sure to disturb our other room mate just as much as he bothered me. Though he was in the Air Force, we guessed it couldn’t be much longer before his out-of-control behavior would cost him his career. I’d already lost mine.
At least, I drearily remembered, I wasn’t working multiple full time jobs anymore. After working two for several months, my body had given out and I’d had to go to the hospital. After cutting back to my single full time night shift position at a local assisted living home, my health had bounced back. I loved my job, but it didn’t pay enough for me to occupy more than half of Ben’s loft in the two-bedroom apartment.
I sat up as Ben continued to play his video game at nearly top volume. Grabbing a couple nearby pieces of trash, I aimed carefully and let them drop from my nest. They crashed onto his plate and as I took aim again, he yelped in surprise and rage as the trash (an empty ink cartiridge) made contact with the top of his head.
“I said turn that down asshole! I was sleeping, like I do every day. Turn it down or play that shit somewhere else.” I wagged my phone at him menacingly.
Ben bellowed in drunken rage, but too confused to understand, he began another round on his game. I grabbed my phone. Pulling up the remote control app, I aimed yet again and hit the power button. The television he was screaming at went suddenly dark and his voice cut short in surprise. I rolled over.
I managed to get a couple more hours of sleep before the sounds of swearing, sizzling meat and the refrigerator door opening and closing repeatedly roused me again. Ben was cooking one of his ‘man meals’. the smell of old beer, too much garlic and burning beef stood my short hair on end; at least he only ever cooked for himself, I thought as I threw back my ragged blue quilt and swung my feet onto the dirty carpet. My joints crackled as I stood and stretched. It was 5pm, later than I would have liked to have slept. I gathered my things and padded down the spiral metal stairs, ignoring Ben and making my way into the master bathroom, which I shared with my other room mate.
I clunked the bathroom door shut and turned on the shower while sleepily pulling off my clothes from the day before. Pajamas seemed like a silly luxury, but as a CNA and med tech, I always smelled of urine, sweat and other ungodly things when I came home in the morning, too tired to do anything but fall onto my midget futon. As I stepped in the shower, I looked down and leapt back in shock; a small gray kitten was rushing around the tile, trying to escape the barrage of hot water.
“Skye! Skye are you in there! My kitten is in there! I just adopted him and they said to keep him in a small room.”
I opened the bathroom door and watched the small cat frantically claw its sodden way out into the master bedroom, then closed the door and got in the shower without saying anything. I needed to get ready for work and knew better than to try to assess or repair the sanity of the apartment I occupied.
The hot water felt incredible against my tired face. I tilted my head back and let the stream blast me. I quickly showered, dressed and finished getting ready for work. Locking my third floor apartment, I ran my hand through my short hair, lit a cigarette, strolled down the stairwell and got into my small white Honda. I didn’t have many nice things, but the Honda was my baby. I first stopped at a gas station for coffee. As I filled the disposable cup with steaming hot brew, I realized yet again that there was something I’d forgotten. Was there something I needed to attend to? I wondered.
As I thanked the cashier and stepped back out of the store, I heard the sound of rending metal and watched in horror as a blue gypsy van pulled back from crashing into the side of my parked car and squealed onto the street, disappearing before I could gather my wits. A little girl laughed and pointed and I bit my lip as I went to examine the damage.
The wheel well was crushed, but there didn’t seem to be any damage that would prevent me from getting to work. The rock in my stomach got heavier. I couldn’t afford repairs. There wasn’t much else I could do but settle my coffee into the dash cup holder, pull out onto the street and begin my commute to my night shift.
The freeway was only a few blocks away and it wasn’t long before I was accelerating towards work. I pulled into the second to the farthest lane, set my cruise control and reached for my coffee. I loved time in my car with my hot drink and music. I glanced in the rearview mirror.
An old truck was zooming up behind me at an alarming rate. It changed lanes and flew by on my left. With alarm, I tapped the brake to avoid connecting with the side of the truck as it cut back over into my lane, just ahead of me. Barely missing its back bumper, I frowned, relieved for only a split second before the flatbed trailer it was pulling connected with my Honda.
I watched a flash of white car parts fly across my windshield and some unidentified components rip away. My Honda, briefly hooked by the wheel well to the flatbed, swung into the lane to my right. I panicked, holding firmly to the wheel and trying to maintain control of the car. With a tearing metal sound, my car broke free. Immediately, I flipped my emergency flashers and began to move to the side of the freeway, expecting the truck that had it me to do the same. It did not.
Accelerating to over 90mph, the truck began to make its escape. The suppressed anger from the hit and run not even thirty minutes earlier burst and my rage was immediately in full force. I turned my flashers off, grabbed my phone and gave chase.
My phone, down to its last couple percentages of power, was thankfully plugged in and charging as I fought nauseous anger and dialed 911. The voice on the other end was infuriatingly calm.
“911. What is your location?”
“I’m heading southbound on 1-15 from Layton to Salt Lake City. A guy just hit me with his trailer and I’m chasing him.” I couldn’t hide the rage in my voice.
“Are you able to provide any landmarks or tell me where on the freeway you are?” The voice was bored.
“I’m about three miles south of Exit 334, but he’s going over 90.”
“Okay ma’am. Please remain calm. I’m reaching out to-” My phone began shutting down, dead. I screamed in frustration.
The truck was flying along, weaving in and out of traffic, clearly making efforts to evade my pursuit. I tailgated, waiting for my phone to reboot and seeing red. I flashed my highbeams, signaling the driver who had struck me. I redialed 911.
“911. What is your location?” The second dispatcher sounded even more bored than the first.
“I just called you and my phone died. I’m chasing the douchebag who hit me and is going 90 trying to get away.” My description, more succinct, did not help.
“Where are you located?”
“I’m passing the theme park and the exit for the jail now. Southbound 1-15. Can you PLEASE send someone to pull this guy over?”
“It sounds like you’re in Salt Lake County now. We are dispatch for Davis County. Please hold while I transfer you to Salt Lake County Dispatch.”
“Are you serious?” My voice had a dangerous glint, but it didn’t matter; the call dropped as the dispatcher botched the transfer.
As I continued to give chase, now ten miles in, I dialed 911 a third time. Cars whizzed past my window and my Honda groaned. For the briefest of moments, I wondered if my car was still safe to drive.
“911. What is your location?”
“I’m in Salt Lake County now. This is my third freaking time calling. I was hit by a guy pulling a trailer and now I’m chasing him going 90. He won’t pull over. Will you please get someone to pull this guy over?” My voice held a hint of defeat as my engine roared along. I dodged around a bus.
“Yes ma’am; we can help you with that. Please remain on the line until local law enforcement has been able to act. Are you able to get behind the vehicle and read me the plate number?”
“He’s pulling a trailer, so no, I can’t see the plates.” Exasperated, I resumed tailgating and checked the speedometer. 94mph. How had we not passed a single cop?
“I am notifying the patrol in your area. Please continue to drive behind the trailer safely and turn your flashers on so the officer can see you going by. What are you driving?”
“I’m in an ’09 white Honda Civic Coupe. That’s two doors. I think I lost my front bumper about 15 miles ago.”
“You will be passing one of our patrol vehicles in about a mile. He has been notified. He will pull over the truck so when you see him, give him room to get behind the trailer. When he pulls over the other driver, just make sure to pull over behind them and remain in your vehicle.”
The last mile seemed more like five as I clenched my phone to my cheek and focused on keeping control of my damaged car, turning the flashers on and keeping tabs on the truck. After what seemed like forever, I watched a police cruiser pull alongside me and I slowed, allowing him to get between the trailer and my Honda.
Blue and red lights began to swirl and the truck finally began to move to the side of the freeway. I pulled to a stop behind the cruiser. The voice on the phone piped up.
“Ma’am, are you safely stopped?”
“Yeah and I’m going to beat that guy into the dirt.” I spat at the dispatcher. My rage was back.
“Please remain in your veh-” I hung up and unclipped my seatbelt, ready to pound the guy.
As I untangled myself from my charging cord and restraints, I shoved open the driver door. I hadn’t noticed another officer pull up behind me and get out of his cruiser, but as I stomped towards the truck to deck the driver, an iron grip closed on my small arm.
“Ma’am you need to remain in your vehicle.”
“He HIT me all the way back in Layton,” I screamed in frustration, “That was thirty miles ago and I had to chase him going over 90! I’m going to beat his face in.” My hysteria, compounded with years of stress and weeks of sleep deprivation, gave me a crazy look.
“You chased him in your car?” The officer sounded surprised and a little impressed.
“Like hell I did!” I suddenly became aware of how the situation must have looked to the officer: a 21-year old gal not more than 5’2″ was storming from a trashed car getting ready to beat someone after a car chase.
The officer began to lead me back to my car. As we approached the front bumper, I got my first glimpse at the damage.
The bumper, grille and left headlight were all ripped away and the radiator, left exposed, had dropped to less than an inch above the ground. No wonder the cops were shocked, I realized. One pebble to my radiator would have been quite the boom.
My car. My livelihood! Seeing the extensive damage brought the violent rage back in full force. I needed my car to feed myself, to get home from work and to get peace and quiet from my room mates. The cop seized my other arm and wrestled me back to the driver door, opening it with effort for me.
“Please wait in the vehicle while we handle this.” I sat obediently in the driver’s seat and allowed him to close the door and approach the truck, where the first officer stood, talking to the driver.
I sat for what felt like a half hour, though it was likely closer to ten minutes. Needing something to do, I picked up my phone and texted my workplace, letting them know I was going to be late because I was in an accident.
“No way. Too much stuff happens in your life Skye.” Callie, the med tech already at the assisted living home, replied quickly.
I snapped a picture of the swirling red and blue lights through my windshield and sent it in response.
“Oh WOW. See you soon? Are you still coming in?”
I needed the money more than ever, I realized. I responded that I was and that I would try to have the car towed from work. My exit off-ramp was less than a thousand feet ahead. I had chased the guy for thirty miles, right up to my destination. I suddenly noticed my coffee and reached for it.
I sipped the much-cooler drink and watched the first officer approach my car. I rolled the window down, noting his clear caution that I would leap from my car screaming bloody murder again.
“So we talked with this guy. There are two of ’em in the truck and they say they had no idea they hit you.”
I stared blankly at the officer, expecting him to laugh or otherwise show me he wasn’t buying it. He did not.
“I just chased him going over 90. Did you not see the damage to my car?! How could he not have known? Surely you know what bunk that is.”
“We do see the damage to your car. There isn’t really any damage on the trailer, though, and your wheel well is crushed in a way that doesn’t make sense with how he would have hit you. Also, he says you actually hit him.”
Mouth agape, I was too shocked for my anger to bubble up again.
“So you’re telling me that while he had no idea that there was even an accident, that he says I changed lanes and hit HIM?” I was stupefied almost to the cop’s level.
“Ma’am, all I’m saying is that we can’t tell who hit who.”
“Give me the damn paperwork. This is bullshit. I was in the second to the left lane on cruise control and had to brake to avoid him hitting me with the damn truck. I had to call 911 three times and now that you’re here you’re telling me you’re useless?!” I didn’t try to hide the utter disgust in my voice.
The officer returned to his cruiser to finish his paperwork. Returning to my window, he handed me a small stack apprehensively.
“Make sure when you talk to your insurance company that you let them know we aren’t issuing anyone a ticket. We just don’t know who is at fault.”
I seethed, rolled up my window in his face and pulled back into traffic for the last thousand feet of my drive.
I pulled off the freeway and in less than five minutes had parked at the nursing home. I grabbed my coffee and paperwork, pulled my keys and climbed from the car. Looking through the window of the facility, I could see the silhouettes of Callie and what must have been the new aide in the window. As I crossed in front of my car, I again saw the damage and my fury erupted.
I’d never had public outbursts of anger, but standing in the hot, dark parking lot, I flung my keys to the ground and howled in rage. It was so unfair! I was just trying to get by and I was afraid- there was no one to call for help. My car was no longer driveable and it was my only asset. I couldn’t afford repairs. I ripped at my short hair, staring at the hideous remains of my precious baby.
I sat on the curb, smoking a cigarette with shaking hands and finishing my coffee. I couldn’t let my coworkers see me like this, I thought. Slowly, I composed myself and walked into work.
I had been correct; there was a new aide on shift. I was the shift lead and it would be my job to train them on every resident’s specific routine and care on top of my regular duties of administering medication and handling emergencies before they happened. As usual, I put my gruffest face on and entered the office.
“What are you doing here?” It was my favorite thing to ask new employees.
“Uh, I’m uh, the new person. I’m on shift now. Katie told me I was night shift from now on.” The girl was nervous, looking to be not much older than 18.
Katie, the nurse in charge of the home, loved me. She would call on her weekends and chat with me about her favorite cars, retirement and whatever else was on her mind, but I’d never actually met her as our work hours never overlapped. She knew if something went wrong on her off hours, I was the person to handle it. By the time she arrived each morning, no matter how many strokes, deaths or falls happened in the night, everything was resolved and the resident had been closely cared for. She called me her third hand and upon my request had provided me with another set of hands for the long nights. Maybe it was the new aide starting today that I had forgotten, I thought to myself.
Callie entered the office, eyes huge. She had seen the damage to my car and likely my angry outburst, I realized.
“Why don’t you two start on 2-hour check ins? I’m late on handing out meds.” I grabbed the medication cart keys and left the office before questions arose.
The residents of the home always cheered me up. First, I stopped in Patty’s room. Patty was only sixty but a stroke and series of knee surgeries had left her incapable of coordination without a walker and a brace. She babbled, unable to string words together. We had quickly discovered that singsongs improved her ability to communicate and coordination, so as usual after she had downed her pills, we sang and danced the ‘Hokey Pokey’, her favorite.
Next was Barb. Barb’s dementia was getting notably worse by the day, so I grabbed some memory cards I’d made for her from a drawer and helped her practice saying her children’s names and laughed as she told me the same stories about them every night. I put some gloves on and went to see Beatrice.
Beatrice was a hateful, angry woman who would have been happy to have dementia. I helped her onto the toilet and while dodging her attempts at punching me. Lately she had been extremely irate, but tonight she was poop-flinging mad. I radioed for help and the new aide came. As Beatrice spat death threats, I wiped her hands down and helped her into bed, explaining to the new girl how she liked to be tucked in, where to place the braces and what cheered her up. As I told the aide cheerily about how much Beatrice loved her son and how great he was, she glowed. I tried not to think about all the times he had eagerly asked if she would be passing soon.
I rolled through my rounds, forgetting about the car chase and accidents from earlier. There were two rooms I made sure to visit every night and as I made my way to room 338, I smiled inwardly. I lived for some of these people and I knew some of them stayed up just to see me, too. We were all lonely and somewhat miserable, but there was comfort in taking care of them. I entered Minnie’s room.
“You’re late! I’ve been calling for hours.” Minnie’s sad voice was hurt.
“Sorry Minnie! Your button went off about twenty minutes ago and I got here as quickly as I could. I was pretty late to work.” I handed her a small paper cup filled with pills. Most of the residents were completely hooked on pain medication, but I didn’t blame them. They usually started jonesing in the half hour before I was allowed to give them meds, so it was normal for them to feel like it had been forever.
“Late? You’re always early! Is everything ok?” She was genuinely concerned. Minnie was a sharp gal, always eager to tell me what she had observed during the day and share her deep thoughts on life.
I didn’t take lunch or regular break in the office like most of the aides; my residents were too lonely for that, so I would spend time with many of them chatting instead. I sat with her on her bed and pulled my latex gloves off, tossing them into the nearby trash. Maybe I had forgotten to bring her something special, I thought, still trying to pin down what I was missing.
“I’m fine. I was in a little car accident, but everything is fine. I’m A-ok.” I mustered my best smile and most reassuring voice.
“Oh my! That sounds terrible! Are you sure you’re ok?” Minnie fussed.
“I promise I am. I need to get my car to the shop in the morning and I guess I’ll figure it out from there.” I continued to smile, feeling more and more like I was grimacing.
“What happened to Nell? The ladies at lunch said she fell and went to the hospital!” Minnie had a hard time hiding her glee at having a bit of gossip.
Nell had, in fact, fallen the night before while getting out of bed. It has been a rough night, I recalled. Two residents had stroked and while attending to them and leading paramedics to the rooms, her buzzer had gone off. It was odd, as Nell was independent and I rarely saw or heard from her, so I had made haste to her room. She had slipped and fallen hard on her rear. Her back hurt, she reported. I had built a pillow wall behind her to make her comfortable where she lay and called yet another ambulance. My instincts had been right; several of her vertebrae had broken and she was taken to the hospital. I did not know how she was.
“You know I can’t tell you that.” I chided Minnie. “You wouldn’t want me telling everyone you wear diapers. Same for everyone else.”
“Maybe I like pooping my pants. I’m older than you; I’ve earned that right!” She cackled. I loved Minnie.
Morning came, bringing my dismal reality with it. I finished my final rounds, wrote up shift notes and clocked out. Grabbing the office computer mouse, I logged onto my insurance company’s website and got on the phone.
I’d never filed a claim before, but I knew I had to pay a deductible of $500, a small fortune I didn’t have. I explained the accident, gave my statement and was told to watch for a tow truck for my car. The sympethetic woman on the other end of the line advised me that I would be given a rental car until work was finished on my Honda. If I couldn’t pay the $500 by then, she explained, I would still need to return the rental car and save up to get my car back as no one had been deemed at fault. I was too tired to feel angry; I was defeated. I thanked the woman and hung up. I would be riding with the tow trucker to the body shop, where I would be picked up by the car rental agency. As I tiredly gathered my papers to wait by my car, someone entered the office.
Katie and I stared at each other for the first time in spite of having worked together for six months. She didn’t look anything like I had pictured while hearing her voice. Short, slightly tubby and with perfectly gray smooth hair in a bob cut, I understood suddenly why retirement had been a topic so readily at hand for her.
“You must be Katie. I was in an accident on my way here so I stayed late to file my claim. I hope you don’t mind my using the computer for it.” I stuck my hand out awkwardly as I spoke.
“You must be Skye, my favorite Hokey Pokey dancer. Thanks for keeping this place running so well. I actually sleep when you’re on shift.” Her voice was every bit as kind as I’d heard on the phone. I relaxed and smiled as we shook hands.
“They showed you the video of Patty and I, did they?” I referenced the other aides, turning slightly red.
Katie laughed, pulling her phone out and playing a clip of my singing off key with Patty as she cracked up, putting our feet in and out and eventually falling over in laughter.
“I think it’s great. Just make sure they don’t post it on social media.” She laughed.
“I’ve got to go meet the tow truck and I’m really tired. I’m really glad I got to put a face to the voice.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“I know how bad you need a car, Skye.” She spoke straight into my fears. “We don’t usually do overtime, but Callie is leaving and she’s the only other night med tech. I will help you get this figured out. I hope your day was otherwise really special.” She smiled, grabbed a clipboard off the wall and left.
I stood rooted, unsure. Should I chase her down and ask her what she meant by ‘special day’? I strained, still failing to remember what it was that I had forgotten. Would she really help me and give me more hours? It was so hard to trust people, I thought as I tore my feet loose from the carpet and made my way out the door.
The ride with the tow truck driver on the freeway wasn’t far short of terrifying as he whipped the huge wheel around and tailgated up every car’s rear window. Soon enough, we had arrived. The rental car agency was already waiting with a pickup vehicle, so I handed my packet to the clerk at the body shop and climbed in. We arrived and I glanced at the waiting rental cars, trying to guess which one I would be assigned. The driver opened the office door for me and I walked to the only occupied desk in the large office.
“So sorry to hear about the accident! Are you ok?” The woman feigned concern well, I thought.
I suddenly became aware of my haggard face and clothes, reeking of urine and feces yet again after another shift.
“It was actually two accidents. Someone hit my car when I had my car parked at the gas station.” I could hear the defeat in my voice. I wanted to climb into my midget futon and lock Ben out of the apartment and sleep forever.
“Are you serious?! Are you a night worker?”
“Yeah and yeah. Just call me a woman of the night.” My voice so lacked humor that she stared, confused at my poor joke.
“Well, let’s get you in a car and out of here so you can rest. What date was the accident? Also, will you get your license out for me?”
“The accidents were yesterday, so July 7th.” I slid my ID across the table to her.
That date. Suddenly, I remembered what I’d been trying to dig out of the back of my mind throughout the night.
“Thank you. And what is your date of birth?” She quickly tapped away on her keyboard.
“Um. Also July 7th.” It had been my birthday and up until just then, I’d completely forgotten. The days had blurred together during the infinite parade of night shifts.
“Oh honey! That is a terrible day. Let me do something for your birthday, if I may.”
As I climbed into the brand new Charger and started it up, I revved the engine and a small smile crossed my lips.
Happy birthday to me, I thought, racing back to my midget futon to get the only thing I wanted: sleep.